Palatine mayor, a one-time Bears linebacker, favors team moving to Arlington Heights
Jim Schwantz is in a unique position to address the possibility of the Chicago Bears moving to Arlington Park.
Not only would the former Bears linebacker have a closer commute to the stadium -- as co-host of the WBBM radio pregame and postgame shows for two decades now -- but as mayor of a town that borders the racetrack Schwantz believes a Bears move to Arlington Heights would yield positive economic benefits for Palatine and other areas nearby.
"It would be an outstanding thing for all involved," said Schwantz, who played for the Chicago NFL franchise in 1992-1993 and 1998 before becoming mayor of Palatine in 2009. "When you're talking about an entertainment venue that would potentially be something utilized 12 months out of the year -- not just 10 games -- hopefully the Bears play more than 10 -- it would be great for the region. Not just Arlington Heights, but for all of us in the Northwest suburbs."
Schwantz, whose day job is in sales for Von Sydow's Moving & Storage, thinks the Bears organization's announced interest in the 326-acre racecourse property makes a lot of business sense.
He acknowledged the team could be exercising negotiating power over the city of Chicago in hopes of securing a new or revised lease or upgrades at Soldier Field. But Schwantz also said the landscape has changed since the organization's previous attempts to move to the suburbs, including Elk Grove Village in the late 1990s and Arlington Park in the mid-1970s.
"It gets to the root of exactly what the Bears are trying to do, which is long-term stability and hosting football games and putting on a production on Sundays," he said.
Schwantz, who was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1994, pointed to that team's colorful owner, Jerry Jones, for changing the way sports business is done and providing a blueprint for how NFL stadiums could be profitable.
Since opening in 2009, AT&T Stadium -- affectionately known as "Jerry World" -- is not only the home of the Cowboys, but also has hosted the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball's Final Four, the NBA All-Star Game and a host of college football games, concerts and other events.
Schwantz doesn't envision something on the scale of the enormous stadium in Arlington, Texas, being built in Arlington Heights. But in order to make a Bears stadium in the suburbs work, Schwantz said, it would have to come with a retractable roof to allow for year-round use and ancillary entertainment uses that could capture an audience for a whole day.
"The Bears run a football team. They're very good at what they do. Gamedays are a lot of fun at Soldier Field. But they're not in the entertainment business outside of what they'd do in the football scope. They'd have to partner with somebody for the entertainment side," Schwantz said. "In Chicago, if you're not looking at the boats or tailgating, you walk the property, see the colonnades and history and architecture Soldier Field has to offer. But if you want to do something beyond that you have to leave the grounds."
Schwantz said more than three-quarters of people he's talked to favor the Bears making the move to Arlington Heights. The biggest downside some point to, he said, is the expected traffic that would come with Bears games and other big events at Arlington Park.
But he said any redevelopment would take years to come to fruition, and planning for the associated impact on local roads would involve discussions with the Illinois Department of Transportation, local municipalities and other stakeholders.
For now, Schwantz is staying on the sidelines, not having any formal Xs and Os discussions about the future of Arlington Park with his counterpart in Arlington Heights.
"It's their backyard. I wouldn't be interested in Arlington Heights giving me suggestions on things happening here in Palatine," he said. "There's certainly a regional benefit for all of us -- the whole Northwest and Northern suburbs. But I have confidence their staff and elected officials will certainly get it right."